By Jenna Kohnke, Program Manager, Treat the Pain
Each year, February 4, World Cancer Day is an opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge about the global burden of cancer and dismiss misunderstandings about the disease. Around the world, there are several myths about cancer, including the belief that cancer patients in resource-limited settings are less sensitive to cancer-related pain than patients in high-income countries. This misguided perception often keeps patients from receiving palliative care or treatment for pain related to their illness.
I work for Treat the Pain, a program of the American Cancer Society that works to expand access to essential pain medicines in low and middle-income countries. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with New York Giants defensive end, Mathias Kiwanuka, to show him what we’re doing for cancer patients in Uganda. We were joined by Mathias’ wife Tessa and his mother Deodata and also by filmmakers Casey Neistat and Oscar Boyson who created a short film about the trip.
Mathias’ paternal grandfather, Benedicto Kiwanuka, served as Uganda’s first Prime Minister and first Chief Justice in the 1960s and 70s. Mathias was born and raised in the United States, but he still has family in Uganda.
Our first visit was to the Uganda Cancer Institute’s pediatric ward, where we visited with patients and their families, nurses, and clinicians. The New York Giants generously donated some Giants gear and we also brought along some toys, books and stickers for the children. Mathias took the time to read stories and take instant photos with the kids and their parents, which were a huge hit! He also got to see low-cost oral morphine is helping to relieve unnecessary suffering in the ward. We have been working with the government and a local hospice to improve access to this essential medicine and to make sure that children in pain receive appropriate treatment.
We also spent time with the staff at Hospice Africa Uganda and visited patients and families receiving -home visits. Mathias learned about the services that the hospice provides and the impact that pain relief has for the patients and families who receive it. He also had the opportunity to spend time with each of the patients and discuss their experiences.
On our final day together, Mathias took us to Konge, where his mother grew up. Mathias recently funded the expansion of St. Joseph’s School and they were having a special ground-breaking ceremony. We were totally unprepared for the warm welcome that we received, which is featured at the beginning of our short film. The entire village came out to greet Mathias and his family, waving palms and chanting “Kiwi, Kiwi, Kiwanuka!”
This film highlights the problem of untreated pain and the important work that is being done to improve availability and create a world with less suffering. Narrated by Mr. Neistat, it focuses on Mathias’ experiences and impressions in Uganda while learning about access to pain relief and the Treat the Pain program.
To watch the film, click here. To learn more about this important work, you can visit the Treat the Pain website, www.TreatThePain.org.